A process to ferment oat flour and dairy milk together has been patented by PepsiCo-owned Quaker Oats, signaling that drinkable or spoonable clean-label products such as yogurt could be coming from the well-known legacy brand.
According to the patent, the company's process involves grain and dairy ingredients being co-fermented along with a bacterial culture. The result includes a unique set of metabolites, the company said.
While some existing food products combine unfermented and fermented dairy and grains, the patent noted conventionally available food products don't co-ferment grain and dairy ingredients together at the same time. It indicated other grains might be used for this process, including sorghum, barley and buckwheat.
Drinkable or spoonable products containing both oats and dairy could be a hit for Quaker, although they would need to appeal to consumers through taste, texture, price and packaging. Oats and dairy have better-for-you nutritional profiles, so yogurt, smoothies, kefir or other items making provable health claims could resonate in the market — especially bearing the name and logo of a well-established brand.
Fermented products could be another on-trend advantage. Quaker's patent said the process breaks down carbs into simpler metabolites that can aid digestibility and absorption of vitamins, minerals and other nutrients. Whether the patented co-fermenting process will attract consumers is another question, and one Quaker would need to address with astute on-package statements that aren't too complicated yet adequately convey the claimed benefits.
Chobani managed to strike a chord with busy consumers through its popular Chobani Flip, a yogurt snack offering crunchy add-ons such as nuts, chocolate pieces and graham crackers bits. Chobani also has augmented flagging Greek yogurt sales by introducing a children's line, squeezable yogurt condiments, a lower-sugar lineup and revamped packaging. Danone is innovating by offering reduced-sugar yogurt with its Two Good line and plant-based options with its Good Plants brand.
Nevertheless, producing more yogurt options right now — even co-fermented ones — might not be the best strategy since the segment is already crowded and sales have dropped. Yogurt sales fell 6% by volume through February of this year, according to Nielsen data reported by The Wall Street Journal. Sales of Greek yogurt declined by 11% during the same period. Meanwhile, the number of varieties on hand at retail stores has jumped 4% since 2015.
Another reason PepsiCo and Quaker Oats might want to proceed with caution is because the parent company's partnership with the Theo Müller Group — which had produced Müller Quaker Dairy yogurt products — failed to engage consumers. It ran into stiff competition and ended after three years in 2015.
PepsiCo has invested in dairy as a way to pivot away from sugary soft drinks and other less-healthy products, according to Forbes. Some of its current focus is on markets outside the U.S. such as Latin America, where consumers are increasingly interested in health and wellness, Food Navigator noted.